Derry officials decide on polling locations

MIKE SPRINGER/File photoA poll worker hands out stickers during a past election in Derry. Town officials are working on the best ways to ensure the safety of voters and poll workers during the September primary election and November's General Election.

DERRY — The town's four voting districts will use a lone polling location for both the September primary and November's General Election.

In a nontraditional move and to ensure that elections this fall are done safely, town councilors approved a measure to locate September's polling location at Calvary Bible Church, and in November, all voters in all districts will cast ballots at Pinkerton Academy.

The town has traditionally used three polling locations for its four districts — Calvary Bible Church, West Running Brook Middle School, and Gilbert H. Hood Middle School — catering to the community's 22,000-plus registered voters.

Voter turnout, especially in November, could top 18,000 ballots cast, but September's primary could be much less as per traditional numbers in the past. That could make using one polling spot at Calvary Bible Church, suitable, especially since the Derry Cooperative School District's calendar said school is in session Sept. 8, primary election day.

Officials noted having school in session on that September election day, and with so many unknowns about if and how schools would reopen, a situation could arise where the two middle school gyms and libraries may be unavailable for election staff and voting spaces if schools needed that added space for safely distanced classrooms.

For the November general election, more turnout is expected, and having Pinkerton Academy be the lone polling location could work as per safety guidelines, and making sure voters are able to cast ballots in a smooth, safe manner. There is no school that day.

Having a sole location for each election will help consolidate election staff, and make the voting process smoother and safer, officials said.

The push will be on to get the word out about changes in polling locations and to encourage more voters to take advantage of absentee ballots if there are concerns about voting in person during the coronavirus pandemic.

Derry Town Clerk Daniel Healey said he has received a lot of calls with interest in voting by absentee. Earlier this week, Healey reported about 160 requests for absentee ballots for the September primary and several hundred already for the General Election in November.

Healey added it's an easy process to get those ballots. Residents can register by coming in person to the municipal center, printing out the request form from the town website or by calling his office.

Making sure poll workers are safe also tops the list.

Derry town councilors are hoping to get younger election workers involved to support the process, in case some of the community's older, more vulnerable workers don't feel comfortable working the polls on election days.

Councilors approved a measure at a recent meeting to pay poll workers $15 an hour, with an additional $15 an hour for "hazard" pay due to COVID-19.

"Let's make this attractive to Pinkerton kids, college kids," said Town Councilor Neil Wetherbee, adding this might gauge more interest among younger community members.

"We need to make sure we are well staffed no matter what it takes," Wetherbee added.

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